What Is a Bridge Camera?

Understanding equipment for budding photographers

A bridge camera is a fixed-lens camera that combines the body style and some of the capabilities of a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera with the usability of a point-and-shoot camera. It is neither wholly a DSLR camera or a point-and-shoot camera. It's hybrid, with additional features unique to bridge cameras.

The term "bridge camera" is often used interchangeably with "mega zoom, "super zoom," or "ultra zoom," because many of these devices have long zoom lenses. However, some bridge cameras have only moderate or short zooms.

Top view of a bridge camera with mega zoom lens extended.

Bridge Camera vs. DSLR

Bridge cameras have easy-to-handle camera bodies, as do DSLRs, so many people confuse the two. Though they may look similar, bridge cameras differ from DSLRs.

A camera body is the main part of a digital camera. It contains the controls, LCD, image sensor, and any associated circuitry.

Lens Differences

The most crucial difference between bridge cameras and DSLRs is that DSLR cameras have interchangeable lenses. A photographer can switch between a 35 mm and wide-angle or zoom lens to ensure they get the perfect shot for every picture.

A bridge camera has a fixed lens. There is one lens, attached to the camera, that can't be changed. But this isn't necessarily a downside. A bridge camera's lens has a variety of capacities, including wide-angle features. But the most notable trait of a bridge camera is its zoom abilities. A bridge camera's fixed lens often can zoom to 400-600 mm, which is much higher than most DSLR lenses can zoom.

Bridge cameras are great for travel. You'll have the ability to shoot wide-angle as well as super-telephoto images.

DSLR Cameras Have More Control

Control is the other significant difference between a DSLR and a bridge camera. A DSLR may have automatic controls, but it will also have a greater range of manual control, including the ability to set every adjustment, including aperture, shutter speed, focus, and much more. This kind of control allows experienced photographers to capture the exact photo they imagine.

Bridge cameras often have some controls. For example, they can usually switch between scene modes and lens capabilities. But bridge camera controls are generally much more limited, similar to point-and-shoot cameras.

Bridge cameras have a host of easy-to-use auto-mode controls, taking the guesswork out of controls for budding photographers.

Bridge Camera Limitations

Bridge cameras may also have some other constraints. For example, although bridge cameras often have ultra-long zoom capabilities, that may not be as much of an advantage as it would seem.

The longer a lens zooms, the less stable the camera gets. Even though many bridge camera manufacturers try to counter this with stability and anti-shake features, when the lens is extended to its longest zoom, the picture may appear slightly blurry or have more noise, which is incorrect color variations at the pixel level. Adding a tripod when taking long-range pictures helps, but doesn't completely counter these issues.

If a photographer wants to use Photoshop or other image-editing software on their photos, they're likely out of luck with a bridge camera. Most bridge cameras can't capture images in RAW format, which is less processed and allows more control when editing. Instead, bridge cameras usually process images in JPEG format, which is a compression format that reduces image size by removing pixels the camera software deems unimportant.

Bridge cameras aren't great for high-speed shooting situations, such as sports photography, where the subject is moving. Shooting in these situations can introduce noise, or cause images to be slightly blurry.

Bridge Camera Capabilities

While bridge cameras might not be right for professional photographers, a casual or beginning photographer will find their features incredibly useful. For example, most bridge cameras have HD video capability that includes dual stereo microphones for capturing great video and sound.

Bridge cameras also have a large, LCD format that lets photographers clearly see the image they're capturing. Often, that screen will tilt or swivel to allow better viewing from different angles. These capabilities, along with image stabilization, let new photographers capture better images than if they were using a point-and-shoot camera.

The Cost of Bridge Cameras

While bridge camera prices can be lower than high-end DSLR cameras, some bridge cameras cost just as much. They generally cost more than point-and-shoot cameras.

But since you don't have to buy additional lenses with a bridge camera, they're more cost-efficient than a DSLR. DSLR camera users must purchase different lenses for different purposes, and those lenses often cost as much as, or more than, the camera body.

Bridge camera costs run the gamut from extremely cheap to somewhat expensive. Read reviews and compare features before buying one.

Who Should Use a Bridge Camera?

Professional photographers may find bridge cameras limiting due to the inability to manually control camera settings and being restricted to certain file formats. Professional photographers may want more control over their final images.

Casual users, such as family photographers, as well as budding professional photographers just learning to compose photos, will find that a bridge camera offers a nice transition from a point-and-shoot camera.

Bridge cameras let photographers have some control, customizing a shot's focal length without having to guess at the other settings necessary to capture a great photo.